Estate planning law involves the drafting of living wills, trusts, powers of attorney and other documents that will facilitate the transfer and management of assets and property after a person’s death. As with many other legal specialties, it overlaps with various practice areas, including family law, elder law and real estate.
An estate planning lawyer is an expert who knows the ins and outs of this practice area and, as such, can help you get your affairs in order as preparation for things such as disability and death.
Why do you need an estate planning lawyer?
Everyone may need the services of an estate planning lawyer at some point – it depends on the complexity of an estate, the health of the individual and other factors. The most common reason for hiring this lawyer is the need to create the following:
- Will: This is the legal document that specifies how your property and affairs are to be transferred and managed after your death.
- Living Will: The legal document that outlines your medical preferences and end-of-life wishes in the event that you are unable to communicate them.
- Trust: A legal/fiduciary arrangement wherein a party holds legal title to your property as a trustee and manages your property on your behalf – it's similar to a will, but dictates how assets are to be transferred or used while you are still living.
- Overall Estate Plan: An estate plan is a set of legal documents (including the ones mentioned above) prepared for any untoward incidents. A lawyer who specializes in estate planning will work with you by comprehensively assessing your estate, asking about your preferences and life goals, and advising on your options.
Aside from helping you to create the legal documents above, hiring an estate planning lawyer will save you time and energy – it will relieve you of unnecessary burdens as writing an estate plan requires a lot of work. It can also save you money, as an experienced lawyer can help you secure additional tax and financial benefits.
Another reason is the fact that only change is the constant thing in this world. Laws are constantly changing, and only a lawyer can keep track of such changes. Your life circumstances can change any time, and your estate plan should adapt to these changes. You need a lawyer to tell you what to change in your estate plan and when to do so.
Finally, a lawyer can offer you objectivity. As you work with a lawyer, you will have an extra voice of reason to bear on your current and future estate planning needs. A lawyer can give you the direct, unbiased advice you need.
How do you choose your estate planning lawyer?
Hiring a lawyer is certainly essential for estate planning, but only the right lawyer can help you achieve your goals. Here are some tips that will help you find the right legal expert:
Look for a specialist
Do not hire a generalist – a lawyer who does estate planning alongside other legal matters; choose a specialist: someone who practices exclusively in this area of the law. Compared to generalists, lawyers specializing in estate planning are more likely to be well-versed with the current laws and issues surrounding this practice area. They are also more likely to identify correctly the areas that can cause you problems in the future.
Ask for a referral
The following persons may be able to direct you to a lawyer who specializes in estate planning:
- Financial advisors: Many advisors see estate planning as an integral part of their clients’ overall financial goals, so they likely can refer you to one or more estate lawyers depending on your individual needs.
- Accountants: Many estate lawyers seek the help of accountants for estate, trust and income tax issues, so chances are your accountant can recommend someone to help you put together your estate plan.
- Other lawyers: If you worked with a lawyer in buying your house, setting up your business or reviewing a contract, chances are they know qualified estate lawyers in your area. Many lawyers will be happy to refer you to other lawyers who do not practice in their area of expertise as it will help them earn referrals as well.
Check if the lawyer is insured
A lawyer who has professional liability insurance demonstrates accountability. Even professionals can commit mistakes, and you should not commit the mistake of hiring a lawyer who does not have this insurance.
Inquire about the lawyer’s fees
Many estate planning lawyers will not disclose their fee ranges before your appointment. While it is impossible to quote an exact fee before knowing the particulars of the case, but a good lawyer should be willing to give you an estimated fee range. On the other hand, beware of someone who quotes a fixed fee without discussing your case with you. That lawyer probably charges clients the same fee and gives them the same plan, which may not meet your actual needs.
It is always better to seek help from an expert than to create an estate plan on your own. Although hiring an estate planning lawyer can seem costly at first, it can be cost-effective in the long run as it can help you get estate planning right the first time.